Public Speaking As A Means To Enlarge My Vision: Part 2 - Receiving
I wrote, last week, about public speaking as being an act of investing in people, and suggested that it had a three dimensional nature: I give; I receive; I am filled. Having put in the effort to find out something about your audience, assembled your public speaking ideas and arranged them into a coherent talk, complete with slides and a visual presentation, and injected some fun into your address in the form of simple ice breakers, it’s time now to take a look at the wider role of public speaking.
Part of the “receiving” is that people you don’t know and may never meet again will want to share intimate details of their lives with you. Now I realise that for some of you, far from seeing this as a positive aspect of public speaking, you may well see it as a drag. “Why on earth would I want to have to listen to someone else’s lifestory?” you may ask. And I can understand that it may be a problem for you.
A FEAR OF SPEAKING IN PUBLIC
Some years ago, when I was leading a workshop at a Christian conference at The Hayes in Swanwick, I managed to find time to attend another workshop led by the Minister of a large Baptist Church. The theme was titled FIER and, as far as I can recall, involved a method of bible reading in which the reader was encouraged to “Feel, Identify, Experience and Reflect” on what was read.
It sounds silly, I know, but despite being one of the Speakers, myself, at the event, my fear of speaking in public, from the floor, proved very inhibiting. It’s one thing to speak from a platform – even if what you have to say includes personal anecdotal material as my talks usually do; quite another to share something with a peer group of strangers.
And so I sought David’s company, in the chapel, later that day. And found that, quite unintentionally, out came my “lifestory”!
A few months later David came to stay with husband and me because he was the guest speaker at our church. And what a laugh we had about that earlier event. I confessed to him that having poured myself out, I spent the next half hour – during which he was trying to set me straight - praying under my breath that my behaviour wouldn’t, in any way, be exhibitionist and, therefore, embarrassing. At the same time he, it transpired, was silently praying that this woman (we’d never met before) would hurry up and get on with whatever it was she wanted to accomplish spiritually because it was way past lunchtime and he was starving!
It happens! We’re all human. And sometimes, with the best will in the world, our humanness catches up with us – a rumbly tummy; or barely stifled yawn; a loss of concentration which means that we miss a question being posed. Fortunately, God can transcend our base human needs.
SHARING A SECRET LIFESTORY
So yes, it can be inconvenient, even draining, to have someone droning on at you. But I’d like to suggest that, as a general principle, we should view this urge on the part of those who share some of the most intimate details of their lives with us, as a privilege.
I’m aware that some speakers disappear as soon as their slot is over. But to my mind, the address – even the workshop – is merely the start of the job you’ve come to do. Your talk is designed to inform, inspire and “soften-up” your audience so that the real work may begin. The goal of the conference organisers is to send their delegates home better equipped to fulfil their role in life, be that spiritually, mentally, morally, occupationally, or physically.
The softening-up process gives people a vulnerability which they may not, normally, own. Hidden behind the masks we all wear, the Real You may never otherwise emerge. Perhaps someone in your audience has secretly longed to quit their well-paid, high-status job in advertising and go into nursing. Or maybe your talk has inspired someone to walk free from an abusive and damaging relationship. Or to invest themselves body and soul in a situation they were on the brink of giving up on.
PUBLIC SPEAKING FOR THE RIGHT REASONS
Who are they going to tell about this? The boss who employs them and pays them 50K to beat their brains out on the advertising treadmill? The person who brought them along to the conference in an attempt to persuade them to salvage the relationship they now realise has no future? Or the colleagues who believe them to be utterly respectable and don’t realise that as a result of your talk they’ve decided – once again - to stand by the son who has been stealing from them to fund his habit?
No! The person these people want to talk to is you. The Speaker who has shared his own frailties with them (if that’s your style); or who has, at least, offered hope and advice, which has inspired them to think outside the box, and just might point them in the right direction to achieve their new-found aims.
And why do they want to do that?
- Precisely because you know nothing about them and what they have, or have not, done to date, therefore they have no “image” to preserve.
- Because your advice will, therefore, be impartial
- And – most importantly – because they will probably never see you again and have to justify their subsequent action or inaction.
Your fee and expenses for public speaking may boost your coffers or, in my case, the support that I give to my charities benefiting children, but this is not the aim of the game. It is knowing that you have been able to change one person’s life for the better that is your reward. And as you trundle around the lake at The Hayes, Swanwick, or walk the North Devon cliffs from Lee Abbey with one or other of your audience, you can bask in their gratitude, knowing that in investing in people, and allowing them to share the intimate details of their lives with you, you have embellished their lifestory. Only then can you say, with them, that the experience has allowed me to “enlarge my vision.” You have given. And you have received.
An Interview with Tom Wright
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